GaLEND Alumna Selected as the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellow

February 15, 2023

Catherine Citta, a 2021 alumna of the Georgia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (GaLEND) program, has been selected as the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation’s Public Policy Fellow for 2023.

After a rigorous application and interview process, one public policy fellow from across the nation is selected each year. Citta was selected for the JPKF Fellowship in recognition of her teaching and leadership experience in early childhood special education, early intervention and state-level initiatives in recruiting to work with young children with disabilities and their families. Through the fellowship, she will support the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in disability policy.

As an individual with disabilities, Citta is committed to the Disability Rights Movement’s saying “Nothing about us without us.” Through this fellowship, she aims to continue to work to bring caregivers, educators, providers, families and individuals’ voices to the policy-making process at the federal level. Catherine credits GaLEND with being a paradigm-shifting program for her, personally and professionally.

“I was once told that I should not disclose my disabilities or highlight my needs to my future employers because they may not support me,” she said. “Going from hearing that in various forms to an environment where disability is not only normal but celebrated was life changing. I had worked in the field of disability and special education for years before entering the GaLEND space but honoring the normalcy of the disability human experience in every encounter is one of the key experiences I have taken away from GaLEND. In my interactions on the Hill, I am excited to bring that forth.”

GaLEND is a one-year interdisciplinary training experience that prepares tomorrow’s leaders to provide coordinated, culturally competent, and family-centered care to children and their families. Citta applied and was selected to participate in GaLEND. She demonstrated an interest in improving the lives of individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities, as well as a commitment to pursuing a leadership role in advocacy, policy, education and research.

“It is so powerful for me to hear Catherine reflect on the value of embracing her identity as an emerging leader with a disability. I have so much gratitude for the ways she engaged the LEND faculty and her cohort as both a leader and a learner,” said Mark Crenshaw, Director of Interdisciplinary Training. “Catherine provides an incredible example about what can happen when a smart, dedicated person is in the room at just the right time in their process.”

Citta is a doctoral student in the Communication Sciences and Special Education department at the  Mary Frances Early College of Education at the University of Georgia.

“Taking Educational Administration and Policy (EDAP) courses in federal policy, the politics of research use in policy-making and foundational courses in policy analysis assisted in my historical and academic understanding of the public policy-making process,” she said. “In addition, the experiences through the EDAP program and the courses have been imperative to my participation in local, state, and federal efforts.”

She is also a part of the Office of Special Education Program’s Early Childhood Intervention Doctoral Consortium, which brings together scholars from leading R-1 institutions across the nation to focus on research, policy, leadership and the education of young children with high-intensity support needs. Her research efforts focus on implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a collaboration highlighting family participation across agencies and sectors at the state and local levels, and systems thinking for early childhood special education research, policy and practice.

“Catherine helped start Georgia’s comprehensive system of personnel development, which is the infrastructure for ensuring that Georgia has a robust and well-trained workforce to support young children with disabilities and their families. We are thrilled that she will bring her leadership to the national level so that she can impact even more young children and their families,” said Emily Graybill, clinical associate professor in the Georgia State University School of Public Health and director of the Center for Leadership in Disability, which administers GaLEND.

Various opportunities for engagement in research and leadership in Georgia and nationally throughout Citta’s doctoral program ignited a passion in her to pursue a policy focusing on disability.

“Seeing the national landscape of early intervention research, policy, and practice in the Early Childhood Intervention Doctoral Consortium has contributed significantly to my desire to assist at the federal level. I am excited to be headed to Washington, D.C., and to bring the experiences myself and others to the federal policy-making process. Going through the application and interview process with the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation and being supported by leaders in the field of IDD will be something I am forever grateful for. I am looking forward to this year in the fellowship!”